By COLLEEN SLEVIN
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The suspect accused of walking into a Colorado gay nightclub dressed as a gun and opening fire with an AR-15-style rifle, killing five people and wounding 17 others, was charged by prosecutors Tuesday with 305 criminals. this includes hate crimes and murder.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, stood in a chair during the hearing and appeared alert. In an earlier court appearance just days after the shooting, the defendant’s head and face were covered in bruises, and Aldrich had to be asked by lawyers to answer a judge’s questions.
Investigators said Aldrich entered Club Q, a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in the conservative city of Colorado Springs, just before midnight on Nov. 19 and began filming during a drag queen’s birthday celebration. The killing stopped after patrons wrestled the suspect to the ground, beating Aldrich into submission, they said.
Aldrich was held on hate crime charges, but prosecutors previously said they weren’t sure if those charges would stick because they had to assess whether there was adequate evidence to show it was a bias crime.
District Attorney Michael Allen noted that the felony charges will carry the harshest penalty — possibly life in prison — but also said it’s important to show the community that bias-motivated crimes are not tolerated if there is evidence to support the charge.
Allen did not elaborate on the charges in Tuesday’s hearing, but said they included “many bias-motivated crimes.” He declined at a subsequent news conference to discuss what evidence prosecutors found to support the hate crime charges.
“We will not tolerate actions against members of the community based on their sexual identity,” Allen said. “Members of this community have been harassed, intimidated and abused for far too long.”
Judge Michael McHenry ordered the arrest warrant affidavit in the case unsealed Wednesday over the objections of Aldrich’s attorney, who said he was concerned about the defendant’s right to a fair trial because of the publicity surrounding the case.
Aldrich, who is non-binary and uses her/her pronouns according to defense court filings, was arrested at the police club. They did not enter a plea or talk about the events.
Experts say someone who is non-binary can be charged with a hate crime for targeting peers because hate crime laws focus on victims, not the perpetrator.
But getting a hate crime conviction can be difficult because prosecutors must prove what motivated the defendant, a higher standard than is typically required in court.
Prosecutors in Colorado will need hard evidence, such as statements Aldrich may have made about the shooting, said Frank Pezzella, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“It has to be more than what Club Q pushed,” he said.
According to witnesses, Aldrich first fired into people gathered at the club’s bar before spraying bullets on the dance floor during the attack, which came on the eve of an annual day of remembrance for transgender people lost to violence.
More than a year before the shooting, Aldrich was arrested on charges of making a bomb threat that led to the evacuation of about 10 homes. Aldrich threatened to harm his own family with a homemade bomb, ammunition and several weapons, authorities said at the time. Aldrich was jailed on suspicion of menacing and kidnapping, but the case was later sealed and it is unclear what happened to the charges. There is no public indication that the case has led to a conviction.
Doorbell video obtained by the AP shows Aldrich arriving at their mother’s front door with a large black bag, telling her the police are nearby and adding, “Here I am. Today I die.”